The Link Between Stress, Sleep and Success
Stress is a big thing these days, with 13.3 million working days lost each year due to stress. We all feel and react to stress in our own way, but it can be a leading cause in a whole raft of both mental and physical problems including depression, anxiety, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep can play a significant part when it comes to stress. Often when we’re feeling stressed our sleep can suffer, but also when we are not sleeping well it can cause us stress.
Stress is something we all need to have in our lives. If there was no pressure to do anything, nothing would get done! The problem comes when there is too much stress, too much pressure to do things, to answer emails, respond to comments on Facebook, do the shopping, stay late at work, read with our children, cook a healthy balanced meal, clean the house, be sociable, maintain a relationship with our partner as well as friends and family… and everything else!
Everyone has their own unique point where the helpful stress that lets us get things done crosses the line and becomes a blight on our lives. We all have different things that make us feel more stressed, and the things that relieve stress will be different for each of us too. One thing that remains constant though is the need for good quality sleep.
So many of us these days are sleep deprived and for a lot of people it’s been going on for so long it’s just become the norm. Among my friends I am probably the only person who regularly gets seven or eight hours of good quality sleep – and whenever I post on my Facebook page about this, I get a lot of responses from people whose sleep (or lack thereof) frankly terrifies me.
I prioritise my sleep because I know all too well the link between poor sleep and poor management of stress levels. I know that I can cope with one night of poor sleep, but two or three nights where I don’t get enough good quality sleep can cause real problems for me both physically and mentally. When I am sleeping well I wake up before my alarm, feeling rested and ready to take on the day. I can achieve so much more in my day if I have had a good night’s sleep.
Of course, not all insomnia is caused by stress – and not all stress is caused by insomnia. But there is a massive link between regular, good quality sleep and being more resilient to stressors in our lives.
I’ve written before about how to get a good night’s sleep, and posted suggestions for a good evening routine. I’ve even written a post about how to get your child to sleep – since I know that for many parents it’s being woken in the night by our children that contributes to a poor night’s sleep. Here then are five points to bear in mind about good quality, refreshing sleep:
- It’s about quality, not necessarily quantity. You could stay in bed for nine hours, and still wake up feeling rubbish – or you could get six hours of really good quality sleep and wake up feeling amazing. Focus on ways to improve the quality of your sleep, and don’t worry too much about how many hours you’re actually asleep.
- Make sure you are comfortable in bed. This is one of those things that has become more important since I had S – my body just can’t cope with sleeping on whatever lumps and bumps happen to be around any more. I thought I was sleeping ok on my rickety old bed, but my mattress was 12 years old and it rocked and swayed like a boat. I got rid of it a couple of months ago and replaced it with a new mattress and frame, and the improvement in my sleep has been massive. Pillows are also important here – it might feel nice and luxurious to have eleventy pillows on your bed but when it comes to sleep you only really need one or two under your head. Any more, and your neck will be stretched to a weird angle, causing problems with breathing which can interrupt sleep. Put the extra pillows on the floor, and just put them back in the morning.
- Find what works for you. For some people that’s a bath and relaxing music; for others it’s reading a book. Some of us will be more sensitive to the blue light from a screen, and so should avoid all screens for an hour or more before bed.
- If you are concerned about the sleep you’re getting, use a tracking device to monitor your sleep – but again, try and look at the quality of your sleep rather than just the amount of time you’re asleep. I have a Fitbit which tracks my sleep, and I’m sure other fitness trackers do a similar thing. There are also apps you can download to your mobile, where you put your phone on your bed and it tracks your movement through the night – those probably don’t work so well if you share your bed with a partner or small, wriggly child though!
- Stick to a schedule even on your day off. When we’re not working or at the mercy of the school run, it can be tempting to go to bed later and get up later – after all, we don’t need to be anywhere so what’s the harm, right? Actually, changing our sleep and wake time like this can have a detrimental effect on our sleep. For one thing, when Monday morning rolls around again it will be even harder to drag yourself out of bed. But also, changing our sleep routine by a few hours here and there can have a similar effect to jet lag on our bodies. If you really feel you need to catch up on some sleep then the odd lie-in here and there won’t hurt, but in the long term it is worth sticking to a schedule where you go to bed and get up at the same time every day – even if that does make you feel a bit boring!
With Mental Health Week approaching in May, Tempur are promoting healthy sleep as a way of lowering stress and helping us all to be more successful in our lives. Sleep and stress are so inextricably linked, it’s important to look after our sleep if we want to ensure stress doesn’t cause problems.
This post is in conjunction with Tempur, but all words are my own.